The Dallas Stars are one-quarter of the way through their season and very little has gone as planned. It's not even December yet, and the Stars have already faced more than a season's worth of adversity. With everything that has happened to date, you'd be forgiven for feeling like the season is six months old instead of not even two. Yet here we are, already with a myriad of storylines to point towards. But perhaps the biggest story of all is where the Stars currently find themselves in the standings. And it might not be for the reasons you think.
Let's recap a bit.
Beginning all the way back before training camp, a mountain of injuries forced Dallas into lineup and personnel changes they never saw coming. The club that seemed like it practically lapped the rest of the league in goal scoring last year has an offense ranked right in the middle of the pack. (It seems that can happen when you pull last year's combined total of 113 goals from Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Cody Eakin, Jiri Hudler, Mattias Janmark, and Ales Hemsky all out of the lineup at the same time.)
By the time the Stars hit the 20-game mark, 26 different players had already suited up for Dallas. However, only eight of them played in every game. Among them are Lauri Korpikoski, Adam Cracknell, and Devin Shore - all considered depth forwards heading into the season. Back on the blue line the Stars have already iced nine different defensemen this season. Though not a single one has played in every game.
Because of this, players have seen their roles change drastically. Antoine Roussel has spent time on the first-unit power play. Jordie Benn is manning the point on the second-unit. Patrick Eaves leads the team in goal scoring. Five different defensemen have led a game in ice time. That list includes Jamie Oleksiak, who before last week had only played over 20 minutes four times in his NHL career, and had not done it since January 2015. According to Mark Stepneski of the Stars website, Dallas has already started games with 32 different line combinations this season
Even the Stars highest-profile offensive acquisition from the summer fell ill with a mysterious virus and has basically missed the entire season thus far.
Again, very little has gone as planned.
Still, as play begins this week, Dallas is one game over .500 and tied for the final playoff spot in the West. The Stars are the defending Western Conference regular season champions and came into the season as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. It goes without saying for a team with that resume that their current spot is not where they aspire to be, nor is it to be acceptable in the long run. However, considering everything that has happened, it is also not terrible. Even if some of the aforementioned storylines have been.
So far this season the Stars have been put through the ringer. Some of it has been uncontrollable and some has been self-inflicted. Through it all though, the Stars have lived to tell about it. A big reason why ironically mirrors one of their largest problems of the season.
Players, coaches, and fans alike have all lamented the inconsistency in this year's version of the Stars. Inconsistency in scoring and defending. Inconsistency in lineups and health. Inconsistency in possession and puck management. Most of all, inconsistency in results.
Entering Monday the Stars are one of just two teams in the NHL to only win consecutive games once all season. That's a staggering number. However, as much as they have been unable to string together consistent wins, of equal importance, they have also avoided the perils of consistent losses. Seven weeks in and counting, the Stars have only gone consecutive games without picking up points one time. Seven other NHL teams have equaled that feat. Six of them have a top-10 record.
That is what has allowed Dallas to hang around the middle of the field. Remember the only other team that joined the Stars as one-time back-to-back winners? It's the New York Islanders, currently sitting dead-last in the NHL standings.
The opening two months of the Stars season have not been great. There is no debating that. But they also have not been fatal. That cannot be overstated.
The Stars walked into a haymaker to start the season. In another scenario, it was the type of punch that could have knocked them out. But it hasn't. Now they have to make sure that counts for something.
Which brings us to back to present day.
Several times this week Lindy Ruff spoke of how the time for any excuses is done. Eakin, Sharp, and Spezza are all back in the lineup. Others remain out, but in the NHL every team suffers their share of injuries. The Stars have abruptly learned that this year's journey will not look anything like last year's. It's time for the 2016-2017 Stars to carve out their new story.
So far the narrative has been the adversity the Stars have encountered. Now it must become their response after battling through it. If whatever doesn't kill you truly makes you stronger, it is time for Dallas to flex that strength.
As Ruff said, the time for excuses is over. Now it's time for results.
Josh Bogorad is the Studio Host on Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on 'Stars Live' and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.